A Light in the Darkness - Trevor Bevis

IN 1849, a fateful year for March, racked by cholera and other diseases, the government inspector heard of the great concern of the rector of Doddington in overall charge of the parish of March.

He observed there was probably not a case that this compassionate man did not see, and despite his advancing years he battled against the pestilence where ever it struck, on his own, others fearful of falling victim to the disease. Laying aside his high position of wealth and rank he adopted the higher position of the Christian pastor and became the nurse, the physician and the comforter of the sick poor. “No eulogy can be of the highest consequence to the Rector of Doddington.”

The diseases at March was not as devastating in 1838 as in 1849, Based on a population of just 5,147 the average number of deaths at March between 1831 and 1848 was 180 per year. In 1849 deaths from a combined force of deadly visitations amounted to 441.

In that year March had 1,215 houses. Little London and Sumps had 130 dwellings. The Fens’ speciality illness, the ague, a form of malaria, killed 43 residents of March. Typhoid accounted for 133; diarrhoea probably linked to cholera claimed the lives of 221 and cholera 44. All these cases stemmed from local causes, stagnant putrid ditches traversing the town and contaminated private and public wells, one at Town End 20 feet from the graveyard. Sixty people were accommodated in the old fire engine house on the market place. It became the town’s hospital.

In 1849 March had 986 paupers. It’s sobering fact that the average life span of residents decreased from 52 years and six months in 1841 to 45 years and 10 months in 1849. Ditches were stagnant and waste from West End’s slaughter houses was tipped into the river.

Redundancy in March was not a great problem. Women and children were abundantly employed in the spring and summer months weeding and hoeing. Fathers took home 10 or 12 shillings a week; mothers six or seven shillings and children three to six shillings according to age.

Gangs of workers were organised by “undertakers” (gangmasters nowadays). Women working on fields on a regular basis tended to degenerate and feminine character all but destroyed.

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The annual rateable value of property amounted to �42,000. The vestry or council was deplorably slow in confronting the acute problem at March. It was in fact virtually inactive and it was that state of affairs that led to government intervention.

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